Education is free!

An example of how online education is transforming our lives

Before we get started with the post, I have a request to make.

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Also, a quick announcement - my second book, The Advisory Board, will be out this December! If you ask people to subscribe to my email list, I will give them an exclusive look before the book’s release. More to come in the coming days :)

Now, let’s jump into our topic for the day!

Online education

While online classes in the form of MOOCs and university-provided degree certificates are well-known, there is a new trend that is emerging - online free education through YouTube.

With the democratization of technology with mobile phones and YouTube, anyone, including you, can start a class of your own. At the same time, learning a new topic is as easy as typing a few keywords on Google.

It is safe today to say that education is free; what you pay for when you get a degree is an access to a network, a dedicated schedule, and a certificate. While it is true that in some cases these are absolutely necessary, the online education ecosystem is radically changing our current education system

For today’s post, I want to delve deeper into one product that has fascinated me for the past few weeks.

WifiStudy - a YouTube channel.

This channel was created on July 26th, 2014. Within 5 years, it has grown to amass almost 10 million subscribers and is rapidly growing. Let’s look at what the channel does and why is it important to recognize how it works.

What is WifiStudy?

WifiStudy is a YouTube channel where instructors help you prepare for Indian competitive exams for jobs. These can include Bank POs, Central and State Government jobs, etc.

What differentiates this channel is their live classes.

I stumbled upon one of their General Knowledge videos and saw that they have a daily schedule for studying. Just like a coaching class for an entrance exam, Wifistudy schedules begin at 5:00 am in the morning and go on till afternoon. For those who have been through coaching classes for entrance tests, this will should feel familiar.

The only expectation for students is to open YouTube and join the live stream of classes. Every day, instructors follow a set routine for entrance tests, just like you would do if you were studying in an actual class.

The instructors writing things on the whiteboard live in front of viewers makes the videos a lot more engaging, as opposed to recording and uploading videos on YouTube. At the same time, viewers can ask doubts in live comments and can get them resolved right away!

WifiStudy doesn’t charge students to watch their YouTube videos. Imagine, you are sitting in a coaching class while not paying anything! This is a huge milestone in making education accessible for all. Imagine people in remote parts of the world learning only over the internet.

To date, WifiStudy has uploaded almost 14500 videos on YouTube, which means on average they have uploaded 200+ videos every month. Clubbing such a platform with other preparation platforms like Unacademy or Byju’s, you have access to enough material for preparing for exams.

Leveraging the technology to suit your needs is important. Wifistudy is a perfect example of that. They’ve utilized several features of YouTube to turn into a high-value product for their viewers.


I still remember preparing for my twelfth class board exams using an online course, when it seemed so novel to do so. I was impressed. I learned a lot in a month studying using an online portal at the time.

To see online education growing into such a fascinating enabler humbles me, and encourages me to believe in the world. I am hoping that a lot more new businesses come up focussing on revolutionizing specific aspects of education for all age groups.

From ages under 5 to ages above 50, every individual needs to keep learning. We need more and more businesses that cater to specific groups of individuals and specific businesses. I am excited to see how many businesses spawn up around online education.

And that’s where I would end today’s essay -

What opportunities for businesses do you think exist in the online education domain?

Please reply to let me know. I am planning to share this with some to-be founders of businesses in the online education space.

If you have any feedback, please let me know by replying to this e-mail.

Thanks for reading :)


The curious case of emoji 👀

How did emoji become so popular? Why does every keyboard have emoji?

Almost all of us have used emoji in some form while typing. But the growth of emoji is not often spoken! Today, I’ll dive deep into how emoji came to be, where we’re at right now and where they are heading in the future.

The history of emoji

The first widely used emoji was created 20 years ago in Japan, in 1999. Soon, Docomo and other Japanese manufacturers picked up the trend of emoji. They started growing in popularity, as more emoji were created based on facial expressions, cultural references, and manga. Docomo and Softbank spearheaded the creation and proliferation of emoji through their devices. They became a part of the Unicode standard too, which is a global standard for encoding text in a format that computers can understand.

One pivotal point in the growth story of emoji was Unicode 6.0, which was released in 2010. With this standard, almost 600 new expressions were included in the standard, thus leading to rapid growth.

Not surprisingly, this was the exact time when smartphones were getting popular. Android and iOS were becoming the standard operating systems for phones across the world. These operating systems integrated emoji into their standard keyboards, making delightful messaging experiences.

In 2015, 😂 became Oxford Dictionaries’ word of the year! Around this time, it also became apparent that the existing set of emoji was not inclusive to races, genders, and cultures. So, Unicode took steps to make the choice of picking colour available to users. Today, Unicode is also taking steps towards making gender-neutral emoji, disabled-friendly emoji, and culturally diverse emoji.

One thing to note - Although the word emoji is very similar to the word emoticons, which was very common in the west, actually they are very different. An emoticon is a set of letters used to describe a facial expression. For example - :) signifies a slightly smiling face, while an emoji looks like an actual image.

The potential of emoji

The growth of emoji has been a perfect example of how a picture is worth several words. To say “rolling on the floor laughing,” you need a single 🤣. Not just that, emoji easily cross language barriers. It is very hard to communicate with someone who doesn’t know your language through words, but your facial expressions remain the same. Happiness means happiness across cultures and countries of the world.

Considering this, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation proposed a mosquito emoji to describe mosquito-borne illnesses like Malaria and Dengue. This is a great validation of the growth story of emoji and why they have such huge potential.

I am convinced that emoji culture is only going to grow and diversify. With so many diverse cultures around the world, emoji are going to become all the more popular.

How can we contribute?

Every year, Unicode considers adding new emoji to be added to the standard. Anyone, including you, can submit emoji to Unicode to be considered for inclusion. Looking at the current selection of emoji, there is room for creating culturally-unique emoji. India has its own unique expressions and suggestions. For example, chai, a truly Indian phenomenon connects almost the entire country. Can we create a unique ‘Chai’ emoji? Can we create businesses around new emoji?

On that note, I’ll end this post with a question -

Can you create a new emoji that represents a unique aspect of your culture?

Please reply and let me know.

Last week, I found that posts like this could provide value to startup founders.

Do you know any founders? If so, please ask them to connect with me. I want to learn how they think about starting a new company.

Thanks for reading :)


Photo by Bernard Hermant on Unsplash

🔏Privacy concerns around WhatsApp

#3 - Let's examine the fake news menace and how WhatsApp is solving it.

“WhatsApp is the root cause of all this fake news!”

“WhatsApp is the reason why we’re seeing all this happen!”

“People spend entire days just messaging on WhatsApp!”

I’m sure all of you have heard these from time to time. With the severe impact WhatsApp has on our lives, it is obvious that it would have to face some malign.

Let’s look at how all this started and how we can act to prevent fake news from spreading.

The fake news menace

Over the last couple of years, every so often, we see WhatsApp in the news for the wrong reasons. The most horrific of them were the lynchings that happened after fake news went viral on WhatsApp. Several people were critically injured in these lynchings.

Not just these major events, but even in our personal chats, we tend to respond to a message before verifying the contents of an image. It is very easy to see a message, build an opinion around it, and share it with fellow friends.

The creators of fake messages are smart. These people tweak messages so that they’re believable and make it very tempting for you to share them. Most of the messages have a real background to them. The creators slyly tweak some of the facts, giving events a ‘real’ appearance which you’ll very likely believe. Since the general audience doesn’t care to verify facts, such messages spread across the country.

The government has asked WhatsApp to step up and stop the fake news menace. But the problem is not as easy as merely telling WhatsApp to stop the spread of fake news.

WhatsApp is an end-to-end encrypted system. What this means is no one apart from the sender and receiver can see a message. While other social media platforms like Facebook, Instagram, etc. are not fully encrypted, WhatsApp has always highlighted how it respects users’ privacy by providing end-to-end encryption. This is clearly reflected in their terms of service.

If WhatsApp starts to read your messages to verify what is fake and what is not, that would be violating their terms of service. If WhatsApp doesn’t read your messages, determining fake messages is extremely hard.

As a result, the company’s choices are very limited. It cannot make a change one day and expect it to solve the fake news problem right away.

But WhatsApp is taking measures to solve this problem.

What is WhatsApp doing?

Earlier this year, the company started limiting the ‘virality’ of a message on WhatsApp. They cut down the number of times you can forward a message to your contacts to 5. This means, even if you have a group of 256 people (which is the maximum number of people in a group), your message could reach at most 1280 people.

Now you might say that this doesn’t solve the problem. These 1280 people can still forward the messages to their contacts, thus increasing the likelihood of spreading a fake message.

But let’s compare that number with what was previously possible. In 2018, each person could forward a message to 256 contacts, and each group could have 256 people in it. This meant that one person’s messages could reach 65536 people.

Comparing the numbers, it becomes evident that limiting the virality would help reduce the spread of messages in general. This makes sense for the long-term health of WhatsApp too, since it is primarily a private messaging service. It is not meant to be used as a viral sharing platform, like Twitter and Facebook.

What can we do to curb fake news?

There is no one answer that will solve all the problems. We as users could do a few things to curb the spread of fake news. Some simple things that come to mind -

  • Verify the information you get in a forwarded message before forwarding it. The easiest way to do this is by searching the same information on Google and viewing some of the first few links.

  • There are new fact-checking websites coming up these days, which can be used to verify the information. For example, Boomlive runs fact checks around social media content.

  • Do not share content if you don’t have to. Simply thinking if something is valuable to the recipient will help you think.

What do you think are good ways to curb fake news? Please respond to this email so that we can discuss.

If you want me to write about a specific topic, please let me know. Also, please share this with your friends, family, and coworkers so that we can get a discussion going!

Thanks for reading :)


🔋 WhatsApp #2 - how did it survive?

A look at the competition and how WhatsApp emerged on top

On my last post regarding WhatsApp, I got great feedback! 9 people suggested writing more about WhatsApp. So, here I am.

This week, I’m writing about how WhatsApp grew so fast despite severe competition.

Online communication

Online messaging is not a new concept. Mature chat systems have existed since the late 90s. Systems like Yahoo Chat have been mature enough to scale to the internet. Apps like Skype revolutionized audio and video communication with the emergence of technologies like Voice over IP.

But around 2005, something else was happening that meant the communication market was available for disruption once again. Can you guess what?

Mobile phones.

With cellular connectivity becoming cheaper and companies like Nokia and Samsung starting to rule the mobile phone market, mobile phones started appearing in everyone’s palms slowly. In India’s case too, an explosion of cellular connections happened in the first decade of this century. Though the costs of communicating were decreasing, they were still very high as compared to today.

Then, another revolution happened, which created an immense opportunity.

With the iPhone getting released in 2008, a new era in computing was born. Thousands of apps and companies leveraged the new technology available with Android and iPhone.

The founders of WhatsApp wanted to jump in on the opportunity. As a result, WhatsApp was born in 2009.

But why did it grow so fast? Why not others?

The technology that powers WhatsApp is not non-replicable. Many of the global messaging apps, like Line, WeChat, Hike, etc. were using similar technology for providing communication capabilities.

To understand where other companies couldn’t sustain, especially in India, I would like to take the case of WeChat. This is not an attack on WeChat, but an honest examination of where they failed. Also, I am not saying WhatsApp is the only messaging app in India. Others, like Hike, were also growing.


WeChat is China’s ‘super’ app. It started as a chat application similar to WhatsApp but has integrated payments and social commerce in its app.

WeChat launched in India in 2012 and launched a marketing blitzkrieg soon after. Their strategy, for the entire time, was to focus on localizing their existing app while pumping in a lot of money on marketing. But the consumer preferences in India were very different. This Factordaily article is a fantastic article about the rise and fall of WeChat.

Reading the article, you could see how they fell down. But what was it that made WhatsApp so successful, given that it was not an Indian app as well?

A few major things.

First, the ability to work with slower connections. For a 2G only market, WhatsApp offered the perfect way to send and receive messages.

Second, from the ground up, WhatsApp was built to work with emerging markets. This meant working on slower phones, requiring less memory on phones and consuming less battery. At the same time, it compressed photos and videos to enable sharing on slower networks. These features got people hooked on WhatsApp.

Then, it was the network effects that helped WhatsApp grow. If your friend was on WhatsApp, you had to be on WhatsApp. This was enough for an app that did the job without offering many features at the start.

As the market matured to 3G and now 4G connectivity, WhatsApp matured as well. Today, if you share a video on WhatsApp, chances are high that the videos might be shared in their original format. Add audio calling, video calling, and several other features that are hidden within the plain-looking WhatsApp app.

The result is more than 400 million users in India using the app every month.

WhatsApp user numbers, April 2013-December 2017

Global growth of WhatsApp. Source: Statista


So, the lesson that we can learn from this story is that merely copying apps is not going to lead to long-term sustenance of a product. Venture capitalists have learned this lesson, and foreign companies are being more careful about just translating their existing apps.

What do you think are some good international products that have adapted well to India?

Next week, I’ll write about the fake news menace associated with WhatsApp. If you want to know more about any new products, please reply and let me know! I’d be happy to research and write about them.

Please share this article with your friends & coworkers! It’d be great to see a discussion going around WhatsApp.

Thanks for reading :)


Just WhatsApp it

Let's zoom out and see how it has grown

In the recent times, WhatsApp is gaining a lot of negative publicity because of the fake news that is spread through it. The overall narrative from government agencies is trying to vilify WhatsApp and Facebook to take action against the perpetrators of fake news. They are complaining that the company is not doing enough to curb fake news.

In this e-mail, I want to focus on another aspect of WhatsApp. India has seen a large shift in communication patterns because of WhatsApp. Let’s zoom out and take a high-level view of WhatsApp.

At a high level

WhatsApp globally has about 1.5 billion monthly active users worldwide, of which about 400 million are in India. Let’s think about that number in depth. Experts estimate that India’s internet population was about 500 million at the end of 2018. 80% of that population uses WhatsApp every month. If you are an internet user in India, chances are high that you started using the Internet because of WhatsApp. Though there are competitors to WhatsApp that have some share of the market, it will be safe to say that you use WhatsApp for communication.

For a company like Facebook, this means that it has a very strong influence on how communication works in a country that is as diverse as India.

How did WhatsApp get there?

WhatsApp was launched in India in 2010. At the time, the market for text messaging was owned by phone carriers, who used to charge money for each message that was sent. WhatsApp came in, and said, “Hey, you don’t have to pay to send messages. You only need an internet connection.”

Another reason why WhatsApp grew so fast was how less data it needed to send messages. A stable 2G connection, whose prices had reduced by 2010, was good enough to communicate with your friends and family. In as little as ₹ 10, someone could send hundreds of messages. The founders of WhatsApp had made a sincere effort to make the app one of the lowest users of data, allowing it to work very well on slower connections.

The app was truly designed for emerging markets like India.

That was the hook a price-sensitive market like India needed. Primarily, the younger generation, which was looking for ways to save money on mobile phones, got hooked to using WhatsApp, and soon, India became WhatsApp’s biggest market.

Once people started using it, network effects kicked in. If your friend was on WhatsApp, you wanted to use WhatsApp. In fact, many people even switched to a new phone just because they could use WhatsApp.

This was how the WhatsApp story started, and in many ways, India’s internet explosion started as well. This brilliant article details the important years of WhatsApp’s journey.

So, what does that mean for WhatsApp

One thing that WhatsApp has done exceptionally well, despite its growth, is that it hasn’t lost its essence. There are a limited set of features when the company could spend millions of dollars on making new features to try and make it more attractive.

Because of this, WhatsApp still is looking for a clear-cut way to monetize itself. Currently, the product is free to use for users, and Facebook has not put in any ads on the product. There are talks of putting ads in WhatsApp or asking companies to pay for using WhatsApp to communicate with users. Facebook has a lot of options to monetize WhatsApp.

The most logical answer seems to be to ask companies to pay WhatsApp to send messages to their consumers. But, we’ll have to wait and watch to see how monetization on WhatsApp happens.

The WhatsApp revolution

Today, businesses like Meesho are being built completely on WhatsApp. Companies are recognizing of reaching out to customers on WhatsApp. Small businesses frequently conduct business solely through WhatsApp. Families and friends stay connected through WhatsApp, of course, offering ways to build micro-communities that can create opportunities for selling and buying.

This said, WhatsApp only has a bright future. What the e-mail revolution did in the nineties, WhatsApp has done in the past decade. For anyone looking to start a business, I’d encourage looking at WhatsApp as a mechanism to sell and grow.

This is just the start.

Was this e-mail valuable to you? If so, please reply. I am planning to write more about WhatsApp in my upcoming emails.

If you liked this article, do share it with your friends, family and work colleagues.

Thanks for reading :)


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